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A Casual Complicity

Vinod Muralidhar
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As we watch the chorus of cute kids run through their routine of Krishna kanhayya and the gopis, we are transported back to India, school annual days, neighborhood festivals, and amateur nights. Itís corn pone sentimentality no doubt, but the nostalgia is keen and overpowering. The annual event celebrating a national day is one of the biggest gathering of Indians in the region, and the community is out in force. A variety of acts troop on and off the stage, from girls in colorful costumes swaying to the lilting rhythms of A.R. Rahman to bopping bhangra dancers getting the audience all a-stomping. In between, a couple of acts that seem to be celebrating ĎHinduí values and express devotion through Ďpatrioticí song and dance do not seem too out of place.

One canít shake off a vague unease, however. Nothing you can put your finger on, but puzzlement about how the group putting on this particular act could get in under the radar. Isnít this the group whose parent organization in India is making all that ruckus about that disputed historical site, a four hundred year old religious structure that was demolished by those fervid cultural custodians? When the Taliban smashed the historic Buddha at Bamiyan, historians and commentators compared this to a similar act that happened nearly ten years ago in the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Made you squirm a bit? No matter, it was all so long ago. Whatís being presented here today is all quite wholesome, kids celebrating our heritage, that sort of thing.

Over the past few months, one has been hearing quite a bit more of this organization in the news from India. Something about wanting to build a temple in the vicinity of the demolished structure, or maybe itís just to hold a puja. Something innocuous of that nature, what harm could it cause? Appears to be one of those perennial low-level Indian mutinies, groups agitating against the government for some obscure cause. This is a little more interesting though, because they claim that their cause is divine, and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. Indeed, their case supersedes the Indian Constitution or any earthly law. Now, that could be a bit of problem. For isnít India's existence as a nation, a republic, a country of laws solely based on the Constitution? But these are not terribly vexing issues tonight, somewhat of academic interest really. The mood is celebratory, the community is coming together for its biannual bash. A good time is being had by all.

A month later, we hear of a horrendous incident in Gujarat. The agitation thatís been going on in the background for months, now appears to have provoked a barbaric mob response. A whole bogey of a train is torched. Those of us who have been patrons of Indian Railway in the not too distant past, remember those steel bars on the windows of the train compartments. Thereís no way to get out. There were women and children inside, but even able bodied men would have no chance. One is quite trapped, one probably claws the walls, tries to bend or squeeze through the iron, but there is no escaping. This is sickening news.

With a sinking feeling, we wait for the inevitable. The culprits of the train massacre are clearly identified as the minority community of that area. When the avenging begins, the horror is unsurpassed. Well organized mobs, under the tutelage of Ďculturalí organizations, and watched over indulgently by the police, rampage through towns. In mixed community, middle-class neighborhoods minority houses are singled out and torched, with the residents locked inside. This is not about rioting or looting. This is about paying back, ten fold in barbarity. Western media carry news of an organization called the 'World Hindu Council' that is accused of active involvement in the killings and burnings. The Chief Minister of the state claims to have made all efforts in good conscience, but defers to the ďunderstandable angerĒ of the population. He says that the police are, after all, human too. They cannot be expected to be unaffected by the earlier provocation.

The stories as they are becoming known now are numbing, and leads one to despair. What is to become of our country? If brutal savagery of this nature is now the norm, what claim do we have to be a civilized nation? The parallels with the Hutu massacres of Tutsis in Burundi are quite remarkable. A sudden and swift paroxysm of retaliatory violence, to be sure. But itís not over by far. The wound festers, and continues to putrefy. ďMurder has become middle-classĒ in the most business-friendly state in the country. And we were hoping that things were now different, that Indian polity and society are focused on economic growth, and on India becoming a global player.

Over here, there have been some murmurs against these atrocities. But overall, one is yet to hear of strong positions being taken by the large community organizations. This somehow is not too surprising, given the clear and obvious lack of diversity in these organizations. Considering the active participation of the local branch of the 'World Hindu Council' in community organizations, this can hardly be surprising. Of course, these folks are quite sophisticated and discreet. Nothing overt, it's all symbols and codes. But you would have to be pretty dense to not know what they really mean.

Are we to allow the groups who were active in the recent horrific violence in India to pass themselves off as mainstream community organizations in the US? Are they the appropriate teachers of Hindu and Indian culture to our children? Itís a sad day when the intelligentsia (which most of us highly educated folks think ourselves smugly to be) either through its silence or its well-meaning ignorance, let these Ďprotectorsí of Hinduism speak for Indians. Now, they do have a right to their views, and must not be muzzled or repressed. We take pride in freedom of speech in our society, and civilized debate is only to be encouraged. But where is the debate? Is anyone making the obvious connections?

The news is discussed, in hushed tones, at social gatherings. But thereís considerable confusion among well-meaning and earnest expats. Who started this violence after all? Isnít payback justified? Few, it seems, can take a longer view of the problem. A running sore of a non-issue has continued to haunt our national politics, and is regularly resurrected through provocative words and deeds until there's one more conflagration. Is that too complex a connection to comprehend? Maybe our attention spans have been whittled down over the years, to the national average of two minutes. We are, after all, in the land of the 30-second sound bite.

Oh, well. A polemic of this nature is surely misplaced in a bright little community portal such as this. Itís much more pleasant to discuss movies, song and dance, and read an interview with the latest visiting celebrity from Bollywood. Why, it quite spoils oneís dinner to have to read such disagreeable opinions, on such a nasty topic. After all, itís all happening so far away, and do we need to really get all worked up about this? We all do silently deplore these events, as all right thinking people would. Silence, friends, is not an honorable option. Think. To remain silent on this issue is surely to be complicit, in a most casual way, in the appalling crimes being committed in your name. Speak.

((Vinod Muralidhar calls himself a grumpy guy going through his mid-life crisis. He gets more cranky, as he reads news from all over.)
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